Monday, November 23, 2009

In The News: Market Closes and MPUs

A couple of news items have come across the digital transom in the last couple of days that I thought were worth sharing.

Portland Farmers' Market has announced the closure of their Thursday market at Ecotrust, the second closure of this market season after the cancellation of the Multnomah Village farmers' market back in July.

Ecotrust "never seemed to reach its full potential," said executive director Ann Forsthoefel, noting that while its four other market locations experienced increased traffic and sales, the Thursday market did not share the same rate of growth.

The press release stated that PFM is "currently evaluating other possible locations for a weekly market in Northwest Portland. The organization describes the ideal site as one that offers high visibility, community engagement and support from neighborhood and business associations."

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A paradigm shift in our ability to access meat produced by small farmers is outlined in an article recently posted at Grist. Titled "Will Whole Foods’ New Mobile Slaughterhouses Squeeze Small Farmers?" and written by Tom Laskawy, the article drops the bomb that Whole Foods, wanting to aggressively expand its local meat sourcing, is working with the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a fleet of mobile processing units (MPUs).

These units, initially designed to process poultry, would provide small farmers with a way to slaughter their animals on their farms and sell that meat to the public. Because of current regulations, only meat from animals slaughtered at USDA-approved facilities is allowed to be sold.

The development of MPUs became critical because of the closure of many local meat processing plants in the recent economic downturn, making it nearly impossible for some small farmers to get their animals to a USDA-approved facility unless they wanted to ship them hundreds of miles. With a booming demand for local meat and with farmers eager to provide farm-raised meat to a broader public, mobile units seem to provide a solution.

While Whole Foods will not require farmers to sell their meat exclusively to Whole Foods markets, some critics caution that proposed guidelines might cause small farmers to lose their independence because of the strict requirements that all birds produced for the company would need to have "a consistent look and taste." Raising the specter of "contract farming," or farmers essentially becoming indentured servants on their own land, critics are hoping to shape the debate to ensure farmers' access to these mobile units while being able to produce a unique product.

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